Alaska Dispatch Garden Column

 A lack of snow cover is dangerous for perennials. Luckily, there’s still time to do something about it

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If your yard looks like this, odds are your perennials need extra mulch this season. (Jeff Lowenfels)

Uh-oh. We don’t have snow-cover.

Now, the loyal reader knows I have only one superpower. This power is the singular ability to mention the current weather in this column, and thus, cause it to change drastically. No rain for months? No problem.

One word about the situation in this column and how to deal with it, and we’ll have a deluge that very day. So when I write about no snow on the ground, I recognize the possible force of my words.

Still, I have to do it. Not only can I see your lawns because of the lack of snow, ours still displays the last huge circular pattern I laid down in late September. In fact, lately the heavy frosts make the circles contrast each other and alone this would totally justify mowing the lawn in unusual and interesting patterns.

However, the fact that I can still so clearly see those circles is a sign of potential danger ahead. Snow-cover keeps plants dormant during freeze and thaw cycles. This is what makes a perennial hardy here. And, snow-cover keeps the frost from getting so deep it freezes waterlines running to the house.

Don’t mistake me. No snow this time of year is fine if the temperatures don’t get much colder. There is enough warmth coming up from the deep earth to keep the frost line at a safe level.

However, if this snowless weather continues, plants will need to be protected. The problem is that looking into my crystal ball (and the possibility my superpower actually changes things aside), it looks like we won’t have suitable accumulations of snow for a couple of more weeks, at least.

Now, those who listened to me should be in fine shape. You put leaves down over your perennial beds and plants. Those who skipped this chore, however, need to think a bit about the value of your perennial collection.

You don’t have to take my word for it. It is gardening lore around here: the year we didn’t have any snow-cover. Not only did we lose a tremendous amount of perennial plant material (well over half of the plants at the Alaska Botanical Garden), we lost all manner of spring-flowering bulbs, too.The wise gardener has been fall mulching ever since.

Fortunately, it is not too late to give your outdoor plants the protection they need to prevent them from being damaged or killed if we continue to have a relatively snowless winter.

You should have leaves on your property which can be used to save the day. This is particularly so if you have been following my suggestion to gather a few bags of leaves in the fall so you have brown material for the compost pile next spring and summer. Or you can take some from around the base of your trees, for example.

So, even though I don’t like to suggest it, if you didn’t mulch perennials this fall, now is definitely one of those times when you need to put on the long underwear Uncle Bob sent you last Christmas and go out there and retrieve some of your extra leaves and put them over your perennials.

You want to put down leaf mulch so it creates a layer about 3 or 4 inches high. Deeper won’t hurt, that is for sure. This should keep your plants from growing when we have freeze and thaw spells.

The problem is this time of year you can’t really water the mulch to dampen it and keep it from blowing away later. Work it in a bit with your rake and since the ground is frozen, you can walk on your mulch to help pack it into place as long as you avoid damaging plant crowns and labels, which will break.

Yes, it is a cold, unexpected chore. And, to tell you the truth, I never expected to suggest it to anyone. I can tell you that next fall, early, I am going to really make a bigger push to ensure we all do mulch. I have to — just in case I’ve lost my superpower and mentioning the lack of snow no longer results in our receiving several feet the day this column appears.

Jeff’s Alaska Garden Calendar

Lights: Come on. What are you waiting for? Your plants need them and so do you. Visit the lighting department in a box store or go to one of the several specialty grow stores in Alaska.

Learn the art of making ice candles and luminarias: 6-8 p.m. Dec. 7 or 1-3 p.m. Dec. 10; Mike Monterusso will demonstrate. Limited to 12 participants; Registration required. Call 907-770-3692 for more information.

No snow? Pick up: If you can see it, you can probably retrieve that hose, sprinkler or whatever was left out on the lawn before we get snow.

Fish can help you grow some veggies indoors this winter

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  •  Updated: 5 hours ago
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Who didn’t get a big kick out of The Associated Press story last week about Arctic Greens, the container hydroponics growing company now serving up the freshest vegetables the good people of Kotzebue have ever eaten? (ADN published a story over the summer).

There is no question this is the wave of the future for not just the Arctic, but any number of places where fresh produce is in demand and normal sources cannot reach. Next thing you know they will add a large fish tank and implement it into the system, something not really needed in Alaska where fish are so abundant.

In Kotzebue, Arctic Greens grows food in a hydroponic setup inside storage containers. Adding fish to such systems is a low-maintenance upgrade with some added benefits. (Laura Kraegel / KNOM)
In Kotzebue, Arctic Greens grows food in a hydroponic setup inside storage containers. Adding fish to such systems is a low-maintenance upgrade with some added benefits. (Laura Kraegel / KNOM)

Still, the very idea of a shipping container fully equipped to grow food seems so simple. So simple, in fact, that more of us should consider copying the method in our own homes. Fortunately, there are a lot of ways to accomplish this feat without having to utilize a shipping container or get an advanced degree in hydroponics chemistry.

One way is to set up a hydroponics system. This always seemed like a lot of work to me. Why not add the fish which actually seems to make it simpler? This combination of hydroponics and fish is called aquaponics. I know it is not something that readily comes to mind when an Alaskan thinks about growing indoor plants, but shipping containers aren’t either.

Here is the deal. Fish excrete ammonia as waste. Anyone who has ever had fish may have seen how toxic this ammonia can be to the fish that produce it. This is the main reason you have to clean fish tanks on a regular basis. This ammonia is full of nitrogen, and nitrogen is what plants need. In an aquaponic system, the water from the fish tank is used to feed plants. This removes the ammonia and the water becomes safe again for the fish.

It’s a neat system. Once it is established you end up with a very low-maintenance (read: low-work) hydroponics system for growing plants and keeping tropical fish. If you have a large enough system, you can even breed the fish and eat them. Homegrown tilapia anyone?

I know this is not for everyone. Still, do check it out. For starters, log on to the internet where there are any number of inexpensive “desktop” systems available. You can get a very quick idea of the different system sizes by skipping the actual listings and clicking, instead, on the search engine’s image tab instead. You will see that some of these aquaponics systems are quite elegant and would fit nicely into your living room. Some have one fish, others have room for a “minischool” so you don’t have to really get into another hobby, unless you want to.

Other systems you will see are more rudimentary. Some are designed to show off the fish and others are primarily to support the plants. Some are for one single plant, others for herbs and edibles. See one you like? Click on its page. In fact, do take a look at several setups. A picture really is worth 1,000 words and you will instantly see how these systems work and various ways you could make your own, if you if you were so inclined.

There are many different kinds already manufactured and ready for the home. I found one system for as low as $10; a simple pot that fits over a “tank” where you keep the fish (obviously). Or, you can go deluxe and big at $2,000 and get 12 square feet of garden with a 140-gallon fish tank. You really could support a school of tilapia with that one, along with your allowance of cannabis plants.

There are plenty of great books out there that you will need to read if you are going to get deep into aquaponic gardening. The bible is “Aquaponic Gardening: A Step By Step Guide to Raising Vegetables and Fish Together” by Sylvia Bernstein. And, as you already know, there is a ton of stuff on the internet about this fascinating hobby.

Again, I know this is not for everyone, but it is winter. What else are you doing this weekend? Take a few minutes to look at aquaponics, even you folks up there in Kotzebue.

Jeff’s Alaska Garden Calendar

To my loyal readers: Thank you (again) Alaskans, for letting me into your homes once every week for the past 40  years. Its seems like only yesterday I started writing these columns, even though the first was published on Nov. 13, 1976. Kay Fanning, Howard Weaver, Stan Abbott, Jeanne Abbot, Suzan Nightingale … look at me now thanks to you. My biggest thanks, however, go to my family who have had to endure so many “I have to write a column” moments. Jude, I love you for that, among all the other things …

Ice Candles and Luminaries Workshop: Alaska Botanical Garden Dec. 7, 6 to 8 p.m. Limited class size. Call 907-770-3692.


For indoor gardeners, a little effort will go a long way

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  •  Updated: 1 day ago
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One of the Calandiva line of double-flowered Kalanchoe blossfeldiana. It takes a little bit of effort to get this plant to bloom – but not much. (Pinus via Wikimedia Commons)

Every year as garden writers across the land transition into the indoor growing season, there is a rash of columns with titles like “The Five Easiest Houseplants to Grow” or “Five Houseplants That Thrive on Neglect.” You have undoubtedly come across your share this fall.

You all know the list: philodendron, spider plant, aloe, jade, dracaena, mother-in-law’s tongue, kalanchoe, pathos, English Ivy, oxalis and echeveria. I am sure if I thought a bit more about it that I could come up with another half dozen, at least.

Surely, it is a good thing for all Alaskans to be able to have houseplants and if the only way you can do so is to fall back on the really, really, really easy ones to grow, go right ahead. Just realize that with a tiny bit of effort, you could do so much better.

Take the epiphyliums, the same family of plants that includes those so called “holiday cacti” (Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter cacti). There are hundreds of varieties of kalanchoe that produce some of the most spectacular, not to mention biggest, flowers you can grow indoors. Each and every one would make the list of houseplants that thrive on neglect except for the fact that they won’t bloom if you don’t provide them with the proper number of hours of light (or darkness) and a drop in temperature at night. Neither is hard to provide, but they do take some effort, so you don’t find them on the lists. That is a shame.

Amaryllis would be on the list too, except for the fact that you really need to give these bulb plants a dormant period in a cool area to get the plant to re-bloom. The effort is mostly in exercising your memory: remembering that you put your plant into storage and need to get it out. The results are, again, guaranteed blooms and some of the biggest you can grow. And the effort is not great.

Orchids too, would be on the easiest-to-grow list, but for the need for a 10-degree drop in temperature at night to induce blooming. In addition, you have to water the air roots that stick out of the pot so that they can soak up the moisture. There is a tremendous amount of mystery surrounding growing orchids, but there is not really much of an effort required to be successful — just enough to keep these worthy plants off the five-easiest lists. Again, this is a shame.

You never see cacti on these lists. The only extra effort with these is in repotting, which can obviously be tricky (make a newspaper strap to hold the plant). Pelargonium (aka “geraniums,” both regular and scented) too, are never on the list. Yet they were among the earliest houseplants and will even bloom in the middle of the winter. Yes, you have to prune them back to keep them from getting leggy, but that isn’t much work at all.

And, what about papyrus? You put it in water and it just grows. Why could be easier? The effort here is in finding a plant and so it isn’t on everyone’s easy-to-grow houseplant list. Still, once you get one, nothing is easier to grow. I would put crown of thorns into the same category: hard to find, but a really easy and great houseplant once you do.

Norfolk Island pines require just a bit of effort, and the reward is a great houseplant. (Jim Lavrakas/ADN archive)
Norfolk Island pines require just a bit of effort, and the reward is a great houseplant. (Jim Lavrakas/ADN archive)

Norfolk Island pines require a bit of humidity, and if it isn’t provided they will lose bottom limbs. Perhaps this is why these are not on anyone’s list. Getting the humidity right does take some effort in many Alaska homes. Still, once that is provided, you get a great, and sometimes big, houseplant. I put Boston ferns in this category as well. Easy, once you get the humidity up.

I had a lantana that I grew from a cutting taken in Florida from my mother-in-law. It survived for more than 20 years indoors in Alaska and flowered all the time. All I had to do was make sure it got enough heat and learn how to win the battle against white fliesb which really favor these plants. Once done, we had a real winner and you will too.

Hey, I almost forgot hoyas. The effort there is to keep them happy in a small pot so they get root-bound. Not a lot of work there!

The point I am trying to make is that there are lots of plants that require no effort to maintain, sure, but what fun is that? Sticking to these might make you a successful houseplant owner, but what fun is there in just taking a plant home and letting it grow. Step up your game just a tiny bit and you can really increase your range when it comes to indoor growing. Do a bit of work. What the heck! You are a gardener (or homardener).

Jeff’s Alaska Garden Calendar

Watering: Now that the heat in on in the house, adjust your watering patterns.

Bug watch: Keep a sharp eye out for critters on your plants. Get them now and you will succeed. Let them get a foothold and you won’t.

No to bird feeders: The recent bear mauling in Seward is a good reminder that the bears are are still awake and you should not fill bird feeders yet.

Nurseries: Visit your favorites if they are still open. Support them and they will support you.

Poinsettias: If you are going to try and force yours, start now: 13 hours of total and complete darkness every night.


Are you a ‘homardener’ yet? If not, you should be.

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  •  Updated: 13 hours ago
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Green Thumb project leader, senior Sage Romey, with newly sprouted kale in the Service High greenhouse on April 6. You don’t need a setup this elaborate to grow some food or flowers in your own home this winter. (Loren Holmes / Alaska Dispatch News)

It is the rear end of October and global warming be damned, we are indoors for the duration. Exactly how long that might be is anyone’s guess; mine is five and a half long, cold dreary months. Whew. For many it means a long respite from yardening. Oh, sure, there is the occasional houseplant to water, but there isn’t much gardening in that.

For others — let’s call ourselves “homardeners” — the nine months we spend indoors includes as much gardening as we can stand, even given the constraints of winter. The season is, after all, three times longer than the outdoor one. (OK, I agree “homardening” probably won’t catch on, but humor me, at least for this one column).

At its core, homardening is the business of growing houseplants, sure. This is not as passive as it might seem. The trick is not to just keep plants going so they merely survive the winter.  No, the idea is to grow plants, in the truest sense of the word; just nursing them along won’t do. They are to be nurtured so they can be all they should be, even in the middle of a cold and dark sub-Arctic January.

However, just as warm weather yardeners grow things that flower and produce food, so do homardeners. And, don’t forget the colorful foliage. Amaryllis, lilies, cyclamen, pelargoniums (scented and “regular” geraniums”), winter jasmine and more will all flower during the homardening months of January and February. And there are all manner of flowering plants to buy and grow indoors before then. (Chrysanthemums or poinsettias anyone?) Homardeners check out local nurseries and box stores just as yardeners do in the spring and summer.

What house plant doesn’t have great foliage? The choices are way too great to list here. Your supermarket, nurseries and big chain stores carry plenty. The trick is to make sure you have thick plastic bags and maybe an ice chest with a heat pack in it to get them home in the cold weather. You can also take cuttings from your friends plants just as you might during the summer months.

And if you want to grow things from seed (just like the yardeners do), it isn’t any harder during the winter than in summer. Try coleus. It is an easy plant to grow from seed and you will get some great combinations of colors and patterns. If you have the room under lights, you can grow all manner of annuals.

As for edibles, OK, we may be relegated to growing sprouts in the winter months, but it is something. (I dare say it is also more productive than some yardeners summer vegetable growing efforts.) There are all manner of sprouts to, well, sprout. And don’t forget herbs. There are some that are extremely easy to grow and maintain.

Many homardener can’t resist growing pits and seeds. It doesn’t matter what it is, if there is a pit or seed, it is worthy of an attempt at indoor germination. And, of course, there are things like ginger to grow. You may not get produce from these efforts, but you will enjoy yourself while the ground remains frozen outdoors.

Yes, the homardener needs lights. I am not going to stress over this much anymore, as you can find all manner of indoor grow lights and fixtures in box stores, hardware stores — and now dedicated indoor growing stores. You can convert just about any fixture to a grow apparatus with a simple bulb switch or invest in inexpensive LED or T-5 grow lights or whatever suits your needs and budget. It isn’t hard and I don’t think this audience needs to be reminded of how long six months without much sunlight really is.

There are also those wonderful “automatic” growing systems, most using hydroponics or aeroponics and designed to fit on a kitchen counter. You can grow herbs and even strawberries in these self-contained units. Or, you can make your own growing set up.

Many homardeners take their horticultural endeavors as seriously as the yardener does her agricultural ones. They get into collecting particular kinds of plants. Some yardeners love to collect dahlias. Homardeners can gather orchids, cacti, epiphyliums, African violets and even cannabis plants (these are varied and beautiful plants) into collections.

I know I lose a lot of yardeners during these cold months. If you are one, I hope to see you on the other side. At least consider becoming a homardener, however (even if it is a silly term). As noted, all it takes is a will to nurture your plants instead of just helping them limp by and an understanding of just how long it will be until we are yardening again. If you decide to stay, I will be here for you.

Jeff’s Alaska Garden Calendar

Lights: Start checking out various options. You will be pleasantly surprised at what is new out there.

Watering indoor plants: I like to let nonwell water sit for a day or so to let the chlorine gas off and to let it reach room temperature. The chloramines left will complex out when they hit the organics in your soil.

Spider mites: Heat goes on in the house and spider mites appear. Actually, they probably have been there all along, but are now breeding in the heat. Look for them under leaves. Azamax or other neem products should work.

Set buds on Thanksgiving cacti and Christmas cacti: Place yours up against a north facing window where it is cool at night. Best to have a 10-degree drop in temperature. Do not disturb with artificial light.

Poinsettias: If you want to try and force yours, place it in total darkness for 14 hours a day.


Yeah, it snowed, but it’s too early for bird feeders in Southcentral Alaska

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  •  Updated: 1 day ago
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Bears are still out, so it’s not quite bird feeder season yet. But it will be soon. (Thinkstock)

The most frequent question I am getting these days involves bird feeders. Specifically, is it safe to put them out yet? In fact, it is just a bit too early to put food into yours. The rule in Southcentral Alaska (adjust if you live elsewhere) is to wait until Nov. 1. I am not sure if our unusually warm weather changes this, but let’s stick to this unless someone from the state contacts me and tells me there is a better time this year.

That said, it is not too early to get things ready. Somewhere between 25 and 100 different bird species overwinter here in Alaska, so the effort is always well worth it. All you need is a simple feeder of some sort and seed. It is not hard. You don’t have to be a confirmed birder — or even be able to identify the birds you will surely attract.

The seed part is easy. There are two basic types for sale at nurseries, supermarkets and box stores. The first is all sunflower. The second kind is everything else. My strong suggestion is to go with sunflower, hulled or not, even though it is normally more expensive that the other feed. With these, there will be no problem attracting birds. They love sunflower seeds, specifically the oils in them. The other bird foods are designed for specific birds, such as thistle, or full of common millet which most birds look at as starvation food, good only when there is absolutely nothing else to eat. Trust me. Sunflower seed is the way to go, at least for starters.

The simple feeder part is just as easy. You can put out a pie plate with sunflower seed and the birds will eat them up or even toss the seed on the ground, for that matter. However, it is probably better to buy a basic feeder which you can do wherever you find seed. Get one that holds as much seed as possible so you won’t have to constantly fill it. (See how optimistic I am about attracting birds). Later you can get feeders for suet and peanut butter and thistle.

Consider some extras. You will need a bird book to identify what you see. There are all manner of books specifically on Alaska birds as well as phone apps, so Google away and find what suits your tastes. The Sibley Guides are considered the experts’ bible, but an Alaska birding book is best for newbies.

Next, get something to keep the squirrels at bay — either a barrier, or one of those things that causes the feeder to spin around and knock the squirrel off if you are so inclined. Yes, I know you can also coexist and even feed the squirrels on your property — if you are inclined to attract rodents that will get into your house and chew wires, burrow through the insulation to pipes and other horrors. Please, no letters.

The other big extra — but as far as I am concerned a must — is a motion-activated camera like the kind made by Wingscapes Cameras (there are others as well). You are not home most of the day, but the birds are. Why not see what you are missing or can expect on the weekend?

Finally, some folks put out water, using a special heater to keep it from freezing. Your feathered friends will love it if you go this route. I suspect you could put these out now; I doubt a bird bath will attract bruins.

Jeff’s Alaska garden calendar

Driveways and walks: Mark your driveway and walks now so you know where they are in the winter snow.

Lights: Have your indoor setup going yet? The earlier you get to this chore, the more your houseplants will thank you.

Seeds: If you are so inclined, collect seeds from perennials as well as from those open pollinated tomatoes that may still be on the vine, frozen or otherwise.

Here are the coming trends in gardening — and how they’ll affect Alaska gardeners

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  •  Updated: 13 hours ago
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Editor’s note: Last month Jeff won the Association for Garden Communicators’ 2016 gold medal for Best Writing in the Newspaper/Newsletter/Brochure category at the association’s annual convention in Atlanta, for his columns “Immortality and Grandpa Al’s Daylilies,” “Midwinter Dreams of Giant Vegetables” and “In the Unending War with Dandelions, a Détente.” Congratulations, Jeff.

I am just back from the annual garden writers meetup, this one in Atlanta where the temperatures were somewhere north of 90 degrees every day of the event. Of course, I know I don’t have to explain to fellow Alaskans the perverse delight the heat gave me as I was able to ask residents how they could stand the weather enough to live there. It is our turn now, for real.

There is always a trade show at these conventions. There are also talks and garden tours. All of this to help with introductions of new plants for the home gardener, displays of the latest tools, offerings from seed houses and all manner of miscellaneous kinds of horticultural things you would expect at a convention and trade show attended by garden writers.

And all of this allows me to get a feel for the upcoming gardening trends. Here is my report.

I can tell you the trend of keeping urban chickens appears to be over. Use of chemicals of any kind is over and organics continues its move. We will see more use of individual potted shrub and berry plants. Hydrangeas among the hottest of the new plants and roses are holding their perennial place as favorites.

There seems to be a recognition people are not gardening as much or as large, but want something in a pot. And, for the first time, cannabis is being discussed, though no products have yet been aimed in that direction.

So, we are way ahead of the biggest trend, a continuation of all things organic. I can remember the years when big chemical companies had huge booths and added heavily to the swag bags we all get. Not this year.

The closest was a booth manned by Segenta, the huge international agribusiness, but they were highlighting some of their flower introductions and not chemicals. (I will come clean to report I did take a free selfie-stick from them, as I am sure I would never buy one.) Anyhow, Alaska uses compost, mycorrhizal fungi and organic fertilizers.

In fact, this year only one fertilizer company hawked a not-quite-organic product, though its was labeled “natural.” By contrast, there were others offering compost-based soils with added mycorrhizal fungi and compost tea mixes. There were special grasses (not that kind) and all manner of organic seeds to grow plants on which to use the organic fertilizer mixes. What a change from 10 years ago.

And it wasn’t just the trade show either. Not one lecture promoted chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Again, an amazing change.

As noted, there were any number of new plant introductions. Several were hydrangeas. We shall see which of these hits our markets next spring. All make great annual plants and some will be perennial shrubs if planted in the right spot and mulched.

The new roses probably won’t make it to our nurseries, but you can bet your relatives Outside will be enjoying them. And, look out for the new pansy introduced. It’s a trailing plant, which will be a fantastic addition to Alaska hanging baskets. The folks from the South just walk by it, but the Alaskans at the conference drooled.

In the gardens, mulches are in. I guess folks in drought-stricken Georgia now know mulching holds in moisture. So is garden statuary—and I don’t mean of the religious type. All manner of sculptural art was seen, much of it tasteful; there were no painted women bending over or plastic whirligigs. Quality sculpture is a big trend.

And, finally, mercifully, there were no outdoor TVs to be seen on the tours as there were in previous years, indicating the end of a silly trend in the Lower 48 that never caught on here.

And, as noted, not one chicken coop.

Jeff’s Alaska Garden Calendar

Moose proofing: Now is the time to spray Plantskydd on the trees and shrubs your moose like to nibble on all winterlong. Do not wait. Use hot water. Wear old clothes. Do it.

Wreath-making class: Alaska Botanical Garden, 3-5 p.m., Oct. 15. Space is limited. Check it out at

Leaves: Mulch ’em up with the mower. Do not rake.

Spring flowering bulbs: Plant as many as you can.

Seriously, put down the rake. Your lawn will be better for it.

Bill Roth / Alaska Dispatch News

Leaves. They have held on through torrential rains and hurricane force winds, but they cannot withstand the test of time in the form of rapidly diminishing daylight hours. The leaves are finally falling.

In the early years of this column, which was literally before many of you were born, leaf fall was cause for quite a lot of work. Back then all of us were programmed to rake leaves up so that our lawns were golf-green clean. Personally, I spent untold hours of my youth keeping 8 acres clear of leaves. Sure, I am a better person for it — but times have changed.

Soil food webbies that we all are, we know now these leaves are the second half of the perfect mulch for our lawns. Grass clippings all summerlong and mulched up leaves this time of year (and any left in the spring), feed the microbes that fertilize lawns. Use leaves and clippings and you will never have to fertilize your lawn again. That is an amazing statement to those who regularly apply fertilizers, but it is the truth the lawn food companies don’t want you to know.

As an experiment, for the past couple of years I haven’t even mulched up our leaves. They were still mostly gone by spring and those that remained were chopped up on the first run with the mower. It doesn’t get easier unless you forgo the lawn altogether.

By the same token, your perennials are finishing up if they are not spent already. Standard gardening advice used to be to get right in there and clean things up. Now, we know that as the leaves and stems of perennials decay they feed the soil food web, harbor the beneficials over the winter and give interest to the winter landscape. Skip the work.

So, what are you going to do with all the time you don’t have to spend raking? Oh sure, you need to clear off the driveway, and you should keep those leaves or use them for mulching around trees and on perennials. Also, don’t forget porches and flat roofs.

Well, you could plant spring flowering bulbs. They are for sale all over the place and the ground is not frozen. Buy as many as you can afford and have time and space to plant. You can never plant too many spring flowering bulbs. Make sure your packaging has planting depth instructions or pick up the sheet nearby that has the instructions. Since things have warmed up, there is no need to plant deeper like we used to.

Generally, the pointed end of the bulb goes up when planting. They will do great as long as you put 2 or 3 inches or more of mulch (preferably with grass clippings, but leaves will do) over them. This will keep the soil thawed so the bulb can get started, but once it does freeze the mulch will keep the ground frozen, especially if we don’t get snow cover.

Don’t use bone meal or fertilizer, because that attracts water, which will rot the bulb. There is no need to water. The bulb has what it needs right in it.

If you want to have spring flowering bulbs indoors, in late winter, you need to start the process now. It is called forcing. Pot your bulbs up as you would plant them outdoors, and put them in a totally dark location where temperatures are in the mid-40s. It is going to take 12 to 14 weeks, so start now. If you want, your outdoor bulbs may end up competing with those you forced, which defeats the purpose.

Jeff’s Alaska Calendar for the week of Sept. 29

Alaska garden goes national: My friend Les Brake’s famous Willow garden is being featured in the media again, this time in the autumn edition of Garden Design Magazine, which is available where great magazines are sold (or why not subscribe?). Brake will also be speaking at the Alaska Botanical Garden soon.

Last call on bringing plants indoors: Frost is coming if it hasn’t already.

Winter lights: Now is the time to put up and turn on those strings of white lights (OK, tasteful color displays are welcome).

Driveways and paths: Mark yours with stakes or reflectors before the ground freezes.

Outdoor faucets: Turn yours off. Disconnect hoses and other accouterments.